Putting Out the Fires of Discontent

Preventing staff burnout improves morale, reduces employee turnover, and boosts the bottom line. What you must know.

By Karen Childress | Feature Articles | Summer 2009

 


Dr. Richard Lander values positive working relationships with his staff. Lander owns a four-physician pediatric practice in Livingston, New Jersey

Dr. Richard Lander values positive working relationships with his staff. Lander owns a four-physician pediatric practice in Livingston, New Jersey

Everyone has the occasional bad day at work. We might feel stressed about having too much to accomplish in too short a time or simply feel unmotivated to do what is right in front of us. Frustration about situations or office policies over which we have little control is common. And who hasn’t become annoyed with their co-workers from time to time? But there is a significant difference between the everyday stresses that come with the territory in any job and the syndrome known as burnout.

According to Christina Maslach, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California Berkeley and author of several books on career burnout, the terms stress and burnout are often used interchangeably. Burnout, however, is a syndrome that consists of a unique set of three factors: exhaustion, cynicism, and negative feelings toward oneself.

Exhaustion from working long hours or simply trying to do too much in a day is a core part of burnout. Just going home to rest doesn’t always solve the problem, to which anyone who has ever been “too tired to sleep” can attest. “If you’re exhausted and don’t sleep well, you’re less able to handle the workload,” says Maslach.

Cynicism, the second component, tends to build up over time. This negative, hostile, or dehumanizing response to other people and situations can directly affect the quality of an employee’s work. “When people get into this mode,” says Maslach, “they shift their work behavior from doing their best to doing the bare minimum. This may begin because they’re overloaded and trying to cut corners, but eventually it becomes ‘just do what I have to do to get my paycheck.’ ”

Feeling negative toward oneself is the third aspect of the syndrome. Individuals who don’t feel competent or proud of themselves and their work are candidates for burnout. Maslach says that such negative feelings can be a precursor to depression.

necessarily mean that everyone agrees on every topic. It simply
means that the team works well enough together that employees
are able to communicate and resolve conflicts as they arise.

Having a sense of community within the practice doesn’t

necessarily mean that everyone agrees on every topic. It simply

means that the team works well enough together that employees

are able to communicate and resolve conflicts as they arise.

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